The House passed a spending bill Wednesday that prevents the IRS from spending any money in the next year on bonuses for IRS officials, or on pricey conferences in resort spots around the country.
Members passed several IRS-related amendments on Tuesday and Wednesday before passing the 2015 spending bill in a 228-195 vote. Those amendments included several that stripped out nearly $1.5 billion from the IRS’s enforcement budget — a 30 percent cut that will make it harder for the IRS to conduct audits of taxpayers, companies and organizations.
Each of these measures is aimed at reining in an IRS that admitted to targeting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, and then stonewalled Congress when it was asked for information about the scandal. Last month, the IRS said it lost two years’ worth of emails from former IRS employee Lois Lerner, which has frustrated GOP efforts to get to the bottom of the matter.
In Wednesday afternoon votes, the House concluded work on a series of amendments aimed at punishing the IRS for its poor performance. One of these votes was on language from Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) to prevent the IRS from awarding any performance bonuses to senior IRS officials.
“[T]hey should not be given performance awards in the wake of one of the largest scandals in recent history,” Gosar said in late Tuesday debate. “Giving out bonuses is ludicrous and amounts to a slap in the face to the American public.”
Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) added that the IRS has complained about the lack of funding to do its work, even as it has handed out millions in bonuses.
“It is interesting they were paid by the new commissioner when the prior commissioner had decided that it was not appropriate to pay those bonuses,” Crenshaw said. “And then the new commissioner testified before our subcommittee how he was outraged that he didn’t have enough money to answer more than 61 percent of his phone calls.”
The House passed Gosar’s amendment 282-138 — all 138 members against it were Democrats.
The House also approved an amendment from Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) to prevent the IRS from spending money on conferences. DeSantis noted one conference that cost more than $4 million that wasted money on a speaker who “created paintings on stage to make his point that one must free ‘the thought process to find creative solutions to challenges.’ “
“The troubling thing about the report was that the bulk of that money, $3.2 million, came from unused funds that were allocated for hiring,” DeSantis said. “Now, this is at the exact same time that the IRS began to single out conservative groups that sought tax-exempt status, in part, they said, because the agency simply did not have the manpower to handle the number of applications pouring in.”
Members passed this bill 264-157, and 154 of the “no” votes were Democrats.
The House passed a few amendments aimed at addressing the IRS’s handling of confidential taxpayer information, and its failure to keep proper records.
In response to the IRS’s leaking of some of this information, the House approved language from Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) that would block funding for this activity. “The recent actions of the IRS, whether it is the targeting of conservative social welfare groups or the unlawful disclosure of an organization’s confidential tax return and donor list, are nothing less than chilling,” Price said.
To address poor record keeping at the IRS, members approved language from DeSantis that would prevent the IRS from spending any money to create records or materials that aren’t protected from being destroyed or lost. DeSantis noted that recent emails released by the House show that Lerner seemed to be looking for a way to cover her tracks in emails and other electronic communications.
“That was very troubling because it was almost like Lerner, as a matter of course, is conducting herself in a way to obstruct the proper oversight, and that is very troubling with an agency that is this powerful,” he said.
Late Tuesday, the House approved two other amendments related to the IRS. One from Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) prohibits the IRS from spending money to violate the Federal Records Act, and the other from Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) prevents the IRS from paying a salary to any employee who has been held in contempt of Congress.
These changes and the $1.5 billion funding reduction were additions to a bill that was already tough on the IRS before it was considered on the House floor. For example, the bill already imposed a ban on new IRS regulations for regulating the political activities of groups, and prohibits the IRS from targeting groups based on their beliefs or for exercising their First Amendment rights.